The concept doesn’t just apply to people with permanent disabilities or learning difficulties. Everyone will have different needs at different times and in different circumstances. Someone could be affected by their health (they may be tired, recovering from a stroke or have a broken arm), their location (they could be in a noisy restaurant or an area with slow wifi) or their equipment (they may have forgotten their spectacles).
In Britain and the EU, it’s also the law: the UK Equality Act says people with disabilities should be able to access your work to the same standard as people without disabilities. This means making reasonable adjustments if needed.
Designing for accessibility doesn’t mean the aesthetic integrity of your work needs to suffer: many accessible elements are considered to be good design practice in the wider sense. Accessibility should never be optional, or an afterthought. It should be at the heart of the design process, every time.
Unclear, flowery or confusing writing is a barrier to all readers, but can be particularly challenging for people with reading or processing difficulties. Keep paragraphs and sentences short, use familiar words and avoid jargon. Organise your writing into a logical order, then stick to the point. The aim isn’t to dumb down: it’s about saving people’s time and making sure they don’t have to re-read your writing to decipher what you mean.
This makes it easier for people to see where each line begins. Avoid justifying text, as this creates uneven gaps between words, and try to keep lines to a maximum of 60 to 70 characters.
Capitalising just the first letter of a sentence is much easier to read. Capitalisation can be problematic for people with dyslexia and visual impairments, particularly if whole words or sections are all in capitals. It can also prove tricky for screenreaders, which may interpret consecutive upper-case letters as acronyms (reading CONTACT US as ‘Contact U.S.’, for example).
Any extra spacing or paragraph breaks will be read out by screenreader as ‘space’ or ‘return’, which can be annoying for listeners.
Certain symbols won’t be recognised by every screenreader, so use ‘per cent’ instead of %, ‘and’ instead of ‘&’, and ‘number’ instead of ‘#’.
These can be hard to read for people with visual impairments and dyslexia, as they can make words appear to run into each other.
Dyslexic readers often experience reversed characters, jumbled letters or distorted text jumping over the page, but specialist fonts can help to counteract this.
A study by graphics expert Dr Rob Hillier found people with dyslexia generally prefer fonts with light weights, long ascenders and descenders, perpendicular letters and uniform strokes. He then developed the Sylexiad typeface: each character is as distinct as possible to help readers distinguish between them.
Several fonts have followed this lead. Dyslexie has heavier lines at the base of each character to ‘anchor’ them to the line. OpenDyslexic is a free typeface that follows a similar style, while Lexie Readable aims to capture the clarity of Comic Sans without the negative design associations.